Supercharge higher technical education to kickstart a skills revolution, says new report

Categories: University Campus

A new report has found that higher technical education is in decline in the UK and that the government should take immediate steps to reverse this trend in order to meet its levelling up ambitions.

New research from the Lifelong Education Commission, chaired by former universities minister Chris Skidmore MP and supported by the University of Salford, reveals that over the last five years, the number of learners on higher technical courses has fallen by 25%.

The challenges facing higher technical education in this time are identified as:

  • A lack of good quality information on higher technical education and its benefits, as well as low levels of understanding amongst learners, schools and employers.
  • The false perception that higher technical education is less prestigious than a three-year bachelor’s degree.
  • The varied needs of a complex landscape of potential learners – from school and college leavers to those already in the workforce.
  • An uneven and unequal funding landscape that fails to take a holistic approach to all post-18 pathways.

Launching the report at an online event with representatives from the further education and higher education sectors, industry and politicians, Chris Skidmore MP, said:

“Higher Technical Education has too often been treated as the overlooked ‘middle child’ of the education sector, despite having a rich and proud tradition to back it up. The decline of specialist technical colleges in the 1990s led to an explosion in Higher Education, but it also left huge swathes of England`s learners without the skills they need to adapt to a rapidly changing economy.

“This is why supercharging higher technical education should be priority No. 1 in the Government`s plan to kickstart a ‘skills revolution’ in the UK. The legislative framework for this has already been set-down in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. However, to make the most of this golden opportunity, policymakers must choose the right approach”

The report, The Future of Higher Technical Education in England: Expanding Opportunity for All, makes the following recommendations to the government to reverse the decline of higher technical education:

  • Invest in promotional campaigns to ensure that learners, schools and employers have access to high quality information and guidance around higher technical education.
  • Ensure the Lifelong Loan Entitlement supports quality and parity of esteem for higher technical education.
  • Reform the apprenticehip levy and provide a system of support for employers to invest in level 4 and 5 qualifications for their workforces.

Professor Helen Marshall, vice-chancellor at the University of Salford, said:

“Increasing the take up of higher technical education will be critical to plugging skills gaps in key sectors, driving economic growth and levelling up opportunity across the country. However, there are barriers to this. There is a lack of understanding amongst students, teachers, and employers about what higher technical education is and why it’s valuable, and there is a wrongly perceived lower level of prestige associated with these courses when compared to other higher education routes.

“At Salford, we’re committed to working with further education providers and employers to increase all routes into higher education, including higher technical, higher and degree apprenticeships, and three-year degrees. I welcome the publication of this report today, which makes a number of sensible recommendations for boosting higher technical education in the UK.”

For all press office enquiries please email communications@salford.ac.uk.